November 6, 2022
This story took place a few years ago here on Hawai’i Island. I suppose it could have happened at various times here on Hawai’i Island – I would guess something similar has happened a good number of times here on Hawai’i Island.
A kolea flew back to Hawai’i after spending the summer in Alaska. This wasn’t the first time he’d done it. Like most kolea, he had a destination in mind. For four seasons he’d come to the same beachfront in Puna. For four seasons he’d had a good spot to hunt for crabs in tide pools and then for bugs and worms just inshore. There were people who came and went, but you may have noticed that people come and go in a lot of places and he came to ignore them. So when he spotted the mountains of this island he made his way toward Puna.
When he reached it, he hardly recognized it. As I said, this was a few years ago, and in the time that he’d been in Alaska the 2018 eruption had sent lava flowing across lower Puna from Leilani to Kapoho. The edge of the flow stopped at Pohoiki. Mounds of a’a had turned his favorite section of the beach from a gentle slope to a seven or eight foot high wall at the water’s edge. It was still cooling underneath; he could feel the heat when he came near to try landing.
The lava flow had left some things just the same. There were still human parking lots and structures, there were trees. There were broad stretches of flat ground that he knew he could still find food in. But there was also a brand new stretch of beach made of black sand and rocks that clattered and hissed when the waves drew back to the sea.
He landed and watched the water for a while, where it crashed against the new rock and where it piled up more sand gradually on the beach.
“What happened?” he said to himself.
He may not have meant anyone else to hear, but a saffron finch replied. “Lava came,” she said.
“It’s not the same,” he said.
“No, not much,” she agreed. “It’s even changing each day. That black beach keeps getting bigger.”
“Everything’s dead and gone,” he moaned, “buried under that warm rock or getting covered with that black sand.”
The saffron finch looked at him, puzzled. “What are you talking about? There’s still grass. There’s still trees. There’s still bugs and worms to eat. Life goes on.”
“How can it, when it’s so different?”
The saffron finch thought. “Do you remember hatching?” she asked.
“Not really,” he said.
“Well, are you the same as you were then?”
“Definitely not,” he said. “I had to grow a lot and get these feathers before I could ever fly here.”
“So you grew,” said the saffron finch, “and in some ways you still grow.”
“Of course,” said the kolea.
“This island also grows,” said the saffron finch. “I don’t suppose it’s quite alive the way you and I are alive, but it grows. Where it grows, it creates space for plants to grow, and bugs to grow, and eventually for you and I to grow.”
“But it’s different and I liked the old way better,” said the kolea.
“You and I grow and others may not like it,” said the saffron finch, “but we grow in our own way. You might as well let this island grow in its own way, too.
“Because it will grow in its own way no matter what you say.”
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The recorded story above was told live during worship from memory of this text. Between memory and improvisation, they are not identical.
Photo of lava rock and black beach sand at Pohoiki (2018) by Eric Anderson.